IN OUR FORTNIGHTLY SERIES COMPILED BY JOHN BAIRD ON THE SHOWBAND ERA AND SPECIFICALLY THOSE OUTFITS WHO PLAYED IN DONEGAL OR WERE FROM THE COUNTY, WE FEATURE THIS WEEK THE LA SCALA DANCEBAND FROM BURTONPORT.
Most of our popular Showbands as we,ve seen in these articles started on the road to stardom with very humble beginnings, and it was usually in the dancebands or the “sitting down reading” dance orchestras that many would be Showband musicians got their first taste of a musical career. The La Scala from Burtonport, in Co Donegal was one of these “nursery bands”, as many of the musicians that played with them went on to further their careers in other well know outfits.. This is a short history of the La Scala as told to me by a founder member , Cathal Murray.
THE LA SCALA DANCEBAND
Known locally as “The Murrays”, there were six members of that family in the band , they first started playing together in 1953. It was James Murray who gave them their name, probably taken from the name of a certain Cinema in that area. Their early line up was Patrick Murray (Drums and also the Band,s Manager, R.I.P.). Peter Paul Ward(Tenor Sax/ Accordion), Leo Murray (Tenor Sax. doubling on Drums),Cathal Murray (Alto Sax./Clarinet), Frank Brunnick ,a native of Clonmel (Trumpet.R.I.P.), James Murray,(Trumpet/Musical Arranger,R.I.P.) ,Margaret Murray (Vocals/Accordion) . and Kathleen Murray/Ferry played Steel Guitar but is not included in the published photo. Frank Brunnick came into the band as he was working as a T.V. engineer in Dungloe at the time. The La Scala were to be heard in venues mainly in Counties Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim and all over their native county Donegal , playing mostly orchestrated music for ballroom dancing, but as times changed , so did their dancing programme. Several noted vocalists fronted the band during their time on the road, namely, Danny Bonner (Burtonport). Charlie Bennett ,R.I.P. (Ardara) later to become Chaiman of Donegal Co. Council, Mary Mc Girr (Feeney, Co Derry) was later on to win a heat on the popular TV. Talent Show , Opportunity Knocks , hosted by Hughie Green, Other vocalists were Phonsie Bennett(Ardara), Johnny Anderson(Derry), Johnny Grubb (Loughanure), Danny Boyle(Portnoo) and Eddie Rodgers from Aranmore Island.
Three well known members
left to join the newly formed Keynotes Showband, Vocalist Johnnie Gallagher,
Drummer Tony Boyle and Bass Guitarist Paddy Joe O, Donnell, were to become
instrumental in the Keynotes rise in popularity.
As immigration was terrible in those early years, people would go abroad
to Scotland or England to seek work, and better wages,”When you had a good
musician trained and just getting into the ways of the band, off they would
head to England or Scotland for six months” Cathal told me, When the band
would play in the larger ballrooms they would need a piano or extra brass
players to augment the line up. On such occasions they would do a series
of Summer Dates in the Astoria , Bundoran and also regular dates in Toreen,
Co. Mayo. Also in the Band,s ranks was” one of the finest Alto Sax, players
in Ireland,the late Thomas Campbell from Ardara” says Cathal Murray. As
it was hard to keep a regular band because of immigration , many notable
Donegal musicians stood in with the La Scala, Steve Mc Philemy (Trumpet)
who also had his own band, John Ferry (Alto Sax, Casino
Band R.I.P.), Paddy Bonner (Alto/ Accordion R.I.P.), John Sharkey (Alto
Sax), Tony Gorman (piano), Peter Sweeney(Sax) and his brother Eamon Og
Sweeney(Piano and Accordion), These two were brothers of Paul Sweeney who
went on to fame as a member of the great Capitol
Showband ,on trumpet. Tommy Kyles (Drums from Killybegs), Johnny Gallagher
(Falcarragh) later joined Leo Brennan in The Slieve Foy Showband, and Sax player Charlie Mc Cole was also to become involved with the Keynotes as their Manager.
It,s worth mentioning that this fine band was an inspiration to budding young local musicians especially young Bernie Boyle , whose mother brought him along to hear the boys rehearsing. He was later to become well known as Bill Ryan and his band Buckshot.
Sadly the La Scala finished in 1965 after 12 great yers of entertaining dancers in Donegal and further afield. Cathal Murray went to London where he played in a Danceband in Woolwich for 3 months. He returned home in 1966and formed a small group securing a residency In the Ostan Na Rossan Hotel, Dungloe, He also played at local functions and weddings until 2000. Cathal still drives the Lough Swilly Bus on the Dungloe routes and has in recent years released two fine CD,s “Irish Memories” and his latest “Golden Memories” , featuring himself on Alto Sax, It is a fitting tribute to a fine musician and a gentleman, and a great ambassador for a great danceband , The La Scala. My greatful thanks to Cathal for his invaluable help.
This is the last article in the present series, I will be starting again in the early Autumn with a new series of Showband Era Articles, All the Best
DON’T FORGET TO TUNE INTO
The John Baird Showband Show on TCR Radio
SATURDAY Mornings 8.30am and 11 .00 am.
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